PAINTING THE DUST

I slept through the best parts.

Of the movie?

Yes, I guess you could say that.

Why?

It all turned so sad so quickly like falling down cement stairs.

Did you close your eyes?

Of course, I did. But there were stars in the sky. And a blurred half-moon I took with me.

It’s okay to talk about the hurt. ‘

No one wants to hear.

You’re wrong. They do. They pretend not to be listening. They pretend disinterest but rubberneck toward your words. Towards you.

I thought I would be better by now.

Better?

Yes.

Better at what?

All of it. Better at me. It’s an ongoing project, you know. I’m tired of it. Bored even. But odd. Un-usefeul at times. Pain should be useful, no? To someone or something?

You need to have some fun, go for a walk, do something definitive. Shred paper. The Mobius strip isn’t going to go anywhere, so either enjoy its curves & gravity or take a drive toward the boardwalk & watch people. Get out of your head.

But there is so much dust. It covers everything. It’s in my eyes, my lungs, my fingernails. All the wet cloths dry.

You can paint over the dirt. Layer it in a museum. It shouldn’t concern you. Bother you so much.

Is this enough?

It doesn’t have to be.

It’s a game, no?

Yes, a game. Actually a series of games. A matter of degrees, gradations, iterations. Pick and choose. Lighten up. Here’s your paintbrush.

I wasn’t expecting you.

I know. You needed a visit. I knew you’d be like this again.

Yes, I just needed to sleep some more or not sleep some more. To fight it off or not fight but play dead or beholden.

The others worry.

They needn’t. They do not understand. You don’t either. It’s okay. You know that.

If it stops hurting, call me. I worry. Here is the book you asked for. The sea-feather pen. Go on now. People are busy. Don’t expect so much. Be grateful. It all goes back to Plato, doesn’t it?

The Allegory of the Cave? No, Playdo.

The hole in your stomach will go away. I’m sorry it burns your eyes & hands when you touch things. Don’t be bitter. Sing more.

Yes, sing.

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THE MUSIC OF LOSS

I lost the night, the skeleton key to my grandmother’s china cabinet, my shadow at the airfield when the military planes loomed overhead, the turquoise scarf my mother brought me back from Ireland last May, my resolve.

The notebook with all the passwords, the memo from my boss about tomorrow’s emergency meeting, the apricot dinner-plate dahlia tubers I dug up last autumn, my right to stay silent.

I lost my way out of the forest at twilight, my focus on the last star before cloud blankets settled in, the ability to stay composed during the police interrogation, my favorite coffee mug, my posture.

The sienna leather gloves you bought me, my father’s father’s chest of war medals, the note I left on the refrigerator to remind me of ________ , my trust in the government, my belief in the media, my sleeping bag, the one with the broken zipper anyway.

I forgot the way to the secret cove at the shore, the obsidian rock, the stone plateau covered in barnacles. Where the spear-fisherman, cherry-picking the taug taugs that taste like the lobster and crab they eat, scraped up his back on the rocks during high tide, and disappeared.

I lost the crystal earrings from Czechoslovakia, the large amber pendant with insects stuck inside forever brought to me from the open market in Krakow. The eyeglasses I need for driving at night, the valerian root that helps me sleep, when needed, but often causes me to hover above myself instead. The GPS that was left in the car before the crash, the TV remote on which the seven and nine do not click in.

I misplaced the address to the place that was supposed to help me. The spare key to the shed where I didn’t mean to bury my childhood, the lamp bequeathed to me by my favorite aunt, my convictions, my definitions of love, enchantment.

I lost my ability to do math, my father’s ambition for me. The ability to work in a cubicle of ticking clocks and unhappy workers talking to their estranged spouses at their tiny desks during lunch, consuming processed meat.

My favorite book bag, my mother’s first suitcase, my fear of heights, my self-consciousness. My ability to sleep so much, my excuses for not trying harder to transform melancholy into soothing music, a salve of some sort, to help the others.

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THE ISLAND WITHIN

I left the House in the rain that erased me.

That’s why you can’t see me anymore. Though you gaze at the curvature of earth to catch a longed-for sight of the ship you dreamed of, the one that left me at my lonely shore where perhaps I may be saved. I don’t know yet.

The shipwreck, I shall tell you in confidence, delivered me back to the waves and all the salt that would dry my skin in the burnishing sun.

I am so very sad and so very sorry that you miss me so much that you try to forget.

You no longer witness now how I carry my disfigured heart in my rough, cut-up, calloused hands across the galaxy to find someone to fix it. My raging heart pumping outside of me, a broken fist from a violent fight with myself again.

No one told me any of this would happen.

No one wrote these words in the parchment pages of a sage tome to place on the classical column as offerage for banished gods (that still weep for us and all that we have regrettably done to each other), somewhere we are sure as the dust of travels, the dust in bleary eyes, our mouths.

It was deathly quiet on the island (and I couldn’t help but think of my death), where the lost ship brought me while I wept and slept on the bow, dreaming of my lost father and lost emerald trees filtering late spring light with my dog (with broken hips and strong heart under the colossal maple tree where the needles, one at a time, found his appropriate veins).

When I awoke, the sun was climbing the sea’s horizon. There was sand in my mouth and colored sea glass. I don’t recall how any of it happened or how you should attempt to find me, bring me back.

The ship’s pilot’s sextant and charts destroyed by the fire in my disfigured out-of-chest heart. He mumbled about fractured stars while he looked past the night, a thin, soft velvet blanket–the gentle pilot must have used to cover me.

I slept in softness in the calm before my birth before anyone knew me, asked of me. Except the shattered gods we threw down on the concrete to smash their worn-away-fatigued spirits–because they would not help us when we called them to intervene, lessen the unbearable pain.

Yes, it is very quiet here. The quiet of one gone deaf after one could hear. An emptiness without music, resounding church bells, another’s voice soothing the pumping heart, dilapidated– extracted for an funeral pyre.

It is too hard to keep it, to feed it, to leave it alone outside my bruised sternum — thumping like a semi-crushed bird before it surrenders its feathers.

The days have shrunk into themselves, folded, laid down their awkward cards–their hours have become very small here. Night has become a dress I wear, stitched through my skin and its secrets.

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THE HOURS

Late sunlight climbs up inside the crevices

and exposes. Wait.

A moment of ___________.  Linger

and stay

somewhere someone may be listening.

Waiting.

 

For something to happen, to will oneself astray.

All those sideways streets and glances.

 

Where do they go?  All those hours

of thinking about the hours

 

taking from us, where do they vanish—

skywards?  Recycled in dreams

no one understands

or wants to wake from?

 

Pieces we have to reassemble, sew up the wounds,

our skirts, our lost borders, boundaries, if you prefer.

 

But, what shall we do tomorrow?

 

How have you forgotten?

 

Ah, yes, the Sea. The waves that crash back and take back everything.

Yes, even us.

 

We should peel back all the layers that will come undone

 

And sing them, paragraphs, un-shattered again, melodious,

whole-heartedly stolen, re-appended.

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ICE FISHING

The pike and largemouth bass lurk under the thickened, layered, patina-green ice—dark shadow-silhouettes until, we hope, they will latch onto our metallic lures, and show us their dead-pan eyes, their odd, flat faces—that look of shock and hunger for the cold sea.

Sunlight has finally returned as we knew it would this late January of surprise. A card table of poker played out on TV. White men deemed worthy to hold all the high cards. But we are here now—under the expanse of cerulean, ever-stretching, sky–that is finally clear.

We fumble with our gone-white-knuckled hands in shallow pockets, awkward again in this world between us that we create. Cumulative. Have shed our gloves to thread the bait.

Yes, we fumble—with keys that no longer open things we no longer can afford, but we hang onto them with the grocery list and our dog-eared, ripped pages of enumerated excuses. If only. This. And that.

The ice crackles and echoes. And catches us—back beneath the sky and entering clouds on this stage of sky and ice that speak of the thaw, the changes of its layers of time. The crackling echoes still, and we look for it as if we can see sound.

The pike are still there under the ice, lurking, hungry for what we might have.

The neck cracks a series of small, barely-audible strange pops and cracks and hurts. Too much time with the neck strained on a screen of type and evanescent syllables of song that start and stop. Sputter like us.

The neck cracks to dip back and take in not just the sky but the winter desolation. A city of charcoal-imbued trees with empty arms thinned by the vines of summer that trapped them. That no one came out here to cut.

Tomorrow looms elusive. The hour stretches and we fumble, yes awkward, to fill it. We stretch and lose foothold. But will not speak of such things, put a damper on the fire that burns at the shelter behind us that we have jerry-rigged with discarded wooden boards and brush from the last storm, now frozen.

The birch and oak we have brought from the bed of the truck burn—send smoke upward like Japanese prayer planks—and heat that I have been assured, shall not melt the ice beneath us. The world of algae and plankton and pike.

Did the oysters, we wonder, that we took from the ocean days ago, know that they lived in the refrigerator the entire weekend before they will be released tomorrow back on the island, after their transport in the cooler on the slow ferry, back to the seacoast—because we did not have the time to open them?

I am tired. Fatigued. Fatigued of fatigue. Of the wrist and fingers and neck and back and knee ache–even in the warmth of the House. But it does nothing to complain.

Tonight we shall return to our corners of the House and regroup after the things said to each other about self-centeredness, rings and houses that will or will not be given, keys that will or will not be copied and dispersed, hidden under the cinder block, books that will be written but never read. Manuscripts tossed in the fire. And we will think of the flat, copper eyes of the pike we could not catch, take from that other world under the ice, foreign, yet a part of us that we hunger for—to frolic in its waves, indigo pages of a cloudy sea, during a rainstorm during high tide next summer.

Nostalgic for the beginning: our lost, happy childhoods with our fathers who made us laugh or gave comfort as we sat tucked into his knees on the couch. Our strong fathers who have left us. Nostalgic for the beginning of the island we share. Questions looming that we are no longer brave enough to ask. No longer brave enough to brace and  listen to the answers. Strangers often closer because of words in type thrown back and forth in a free-flowing volley in real time. Higher, theoretical, emotional math.

Yes, we will return to our corners to awkwardly assemble our individual rows of ducks for the work day. Thinking of the pike under the ice we did not catch. Their eyes blown open by the cold. The looming, expansive skies now filled, once again, with faraway stars, pin pricks of light that some say the bone of the body and dust of the soul return to. Isn’t it pretty to think so, as Hemingway said in another context.

It is comforting to know. That three thousand ivory birds alight the temple in an ancient Persian text. That poems will be written. Dust will be swept.

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JANUARY RAIN

There’s no fragrance to winter rain.  Not like in the summer when it mixes with the smell of fresh-cut grass and the color green imbued with morning light. That inch-worm, chartreuse color of April when buds first begin to unfurl. When things begin again.

No, you’re just glad it’s not ice glazing the exposed tree limbs into dangerous glass lace. Glistening skeletons that jerk the power lines down and shut down the twenty-first century. And cause the inhabitants extra skittishness.

Driving in it, you can become sleepy with the back and forth, back and forth windshield wipers pulling the tired eyelids down. Therefore, the heat should be turned lower and the defrost adjusted carefully, or is that fog blurring the distance and its dilapidating barns?

You might miss the windshield wiper of the rear window lost in the crash. But it is better not to look back so much at the vehicle creeping on your back with the threat of another car crash, remembering the explosion barely escaped in time, thankful for the bravery of strangers.

If you were just to disappear, you catch yourself thinking at a hazardous precipice looking down, how much easier? Maybe see your father again? No one has to know the darkness of your imaginings. How you have come to realize you will never love the way you thought possible once you lost the lens of  young adulthood.

That hypothetical noose you wear around your neck is not very attractive if the others could see it. Luckily, you have not yet mastered the proper knots and are more preoccupied with escaping the hamster-wheel cage routine, unknotting what others have knotted en masse.

When the guest leaves finally, you may break down again in the corner like a wild animal in your grief as the winter rain pummels the house’s rooftop, speak to the ghosts you have missed, have been unable to visit.

And when you unknot the ropes mooring the ship to the harbor and lift the heavy anchor in the continuing raw downpour, focus on the horizon line straight like a dancer poised at the core. Sail away as planned, off the grid, no taxes to pay for conglomerate corporations.

The planes continue to land though they are coming in closer because of the fog. People are still going somewhere and that in itself, lends comfort–even though it promises to rain through the night, the temperature is plummeting, and there is still much more to winter.

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HOUSE OF FORGETTING

Place the objects related to the beloved, the lost, the untrusted, the mistaken, the shouldn’t-have-taken-the-pills, shouldn’t have left again, given in, mistrusted, re-trusted—in the house [that should be] as detailed as possible—the structure a castle, split level, old farmhouse, or other large architectural feat with multiple floors, rooms, eaves, closets, myriad of doors within doors.

Place the collection of items in the most precise location, one at a time, with proper ritual at dusk: the flannel shirt in a drawer in the antique dresser in the largest bedroom, the amethyst under the door in the floor of the basement, the ripped up letters in your father’s leather suitcase in the crawl space, the dead birds [eyes open] hidden in the attic eaves, the promise folded up multiple times in the dowry chest with the nails sticking out, the coffin for the dismantled dolls, the ones with the eyelashes cut, the arms bent back.

Place what needs to be forgotten, sterilized from fingerprint and tear, carefully under the orphan’s bed, in the hall closet, the pantry shelf, in the jar with the leftover money and candy for the blind man.

Trace your way back, etching the route indelibly in the labyrinth of the brain, not the intellect, not the place of childhood, not the laundry list. Memorize the layout of rooms, the curtains, the smell of cedar, oak, the lavender must.

Place the long fireplace match by the kindle. Concentrate while ripping the sandpaper [gloved], tossing the wooden match onto the heap at the hearth on the floor, staring directly into the roiling dragon-plume flames, orange tongues, devouring all vestiges, all recollection, all remnants of psychological fervor, all embrace. Destroy the evidence of what was thought to be real, fast-motion—spinning out desire’s disappointments into a blur, a burnish of burn.

Extricate from the moving tape, the field of vision. Delete the blueprints, lists of tedious plans that could all go awry. No hints of the weapons [the arson]. Take careful note: stone, concrete, and brick—will not burn. Replace the burnt photographs with new ones to ensure the erasure of images, the undoing of one or more of consciousness’ knots. Carried away by the evanescent grains of the hourglass, hanging dust from the horse’s mouth.

Erase the scent on every shirt the beloved wore, the sleeves waving back before they come undone before the reckless jump down the stairs to prompt the miscarriage, to end the ungodly routine. Find the way to tunnel out on another side of that lopsided creature, swallow upon swallow, lost bird after lost bird. Signatures erased or never witnessed: a conspiratorial back-dating of all the dots, then erased [the way], lines to the past.

Once the original house burns to the ground, revise, re-program, on as many strata as possible. Construct new houses without delay: House of Plan, House of Fortitude, House of I-am-done-licking the wounds, House of Where to Go Now.

[published in SPLIT ROCK REVIEW]

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LAYERS

  1. There are too many layers to examine properly. One by one, thin skins rip one’s face and fingers down to delicate flesh flowers, reminding we can’t forget apertures. The stutter of thunder, the shutter of wind and shadow. I am looking for a system of management, a filing system for all the broken bits that take hold for milliseconds then with the cardinal in my own forest, disappear. There is so much. I want to tell you.

 

  1. The House is a collage on speed. At times, time is a multiplication of lost parts. I am trying to tell you things, but they (the things and things themselves) spill their borders, blur the mess. They bleed their paint when I turn my attention from particulars to other matter. When the scope is too immense.

 

  1. Not to mention depth is to mention depth. The plummet of gut in one’s moth or hands, exposed like that. How embarrassing holding all one’s cards up to sky for rain to wash away the numbers and other traces of all that we have done. We must pace ourselves. We must say what it was like at the precipice looking out.

 

  1. The others came to dig bounty beneath the surface of our widest imagination. The sky feathered her answer of birds and bee’s nest. No one was afraid. The layers peeled back disguises to kindness. I am telling you what it was like here. When I knew things with such certainty for which I am nostalgic already.

 

  1. All that dust fills the eyes and lungs and our hearing. We have become mute as regards the impending winter. No one wants to say what the bottom dollar drives away, the ethics of explosion, emotion. The children play jacks and do not know their parents’ worry about maps and countries and laws. The trump card invisible for now though one pretends to guard.

 

  1. The birds do not know us. The cardinal pair in their own ritual of apple-tree dance. Night finds us sooner with the cricket-cicada song lessening. Things were very bad for a time. The neighbors do not know. How the soul folds itself into origami math. How at times, everything breaks.

 

  1. Yes, everything breaks, a shipwreck of the worst kind. We travel to the edge and hold tight to the stones in our trouser pockets, trading silence for our grievances. There is pride after all. When the sun falls orange again, we shall turn toward the memory core from which the layers are shorn. Exposed like that, some will draw guns, some will yell out to the universe.

 

  1. Exposed like that, some crawl in fox holes to lick the wounds, press worry into glass beads, knead bread to fill the stomach and forget other things. How lost. How tragic the hero’s downfall again. How everything moves but stays in place somehow. Hos the light crawled inside the smallest of places. How the hurt animal behind the fence, acquiesced. (How someone could make one feel better for a while (theoretically)).

 

  1. Without even looking, we know things. Then seeing, we see things we know and don’t know. That the body will be left underground.

 

  1. Everything changed while I was sleeping.

 

  1. The ground has shifted our common ground. Bending forever, the roads with their attendant anxieties. Imagination knows what might go wrong. Or right, one reminds the self so lost in its self-imposed shuffle. Newly lame, the dog smiles reluctantly at its owner. The eyes plead, “It is not time yet but soon.” And already painful nostalgia settles in.

 

  1. It’s not time yet. Stuck in traffic and the clogged arteries of thought, the map out of the brain seemingly impossible. Holes cut out—no snowflake alike, no day, no journey. Study the butterfly drinking sun-nectar—still jumpy, but at home.

 

  1. We have mapped a plan for you, but it involves some amputations of dead artery-limbs. Steady now. The rain washes our petty grievances.

 

[Published in THE GREAT AMERICAN LITERARY MAGAZINE, 2016]

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AFFIRMATIONS [1] and [2]

AFFIRMATIONS  [1]

No one was left standing at the edge of the battle. The men, horizontal, wept in fox holes.

The sky sings rain to green and clean us.

I sent you many letters, 26 to be exact, A-Z. Why won’t you read—are you lazy, bored, or afraid?

Facebook creates community yet procrastinates people. The happy medium? Yes, for everything: the steadying branch you whittle and own.

When I grow up, I want to be a lunch box that children open, peer inside.

I have told all the others.

Why can’t you determine the real me of three and show me—hold the mirror up and see yourself?

I swear I see you there—hiding—in your skin as if you belonged.

I am writing many sentences. I am writing. Many. There are sandwiches for everyone. Yes, a picnic in the rain. Bring your sadness. Bring your laughter and surprise. We will be wise again. I promise.

 

 

AFFIRMATIONS [2] – KEY OF  S

I have wrapped the fallen in the requisite white cloths and written a sentence for each in permanent ink that even the torrential rains couldn’t disturb.

You will tell me: what it was like there stuck above glass waiting for the silk sandfall to slip sane-ness [sameness] again.  It must have hurt very much, which is why you do not talk.

So you invented a chain of catharsis, a different fence, safe, for becoming someone brave. Tiny dramas  that found you noble in behavior and thought, a team player on your own team for once, an origami uniform with the most unusual font [fountain]. I know.

I have such secrets stitched in the hem of my too-long skirt. There is a danger of stumbling into stone, so I pick up the fabric and tip chin back to sky.

There are pens, too, sewn into the borders. Sometimes they are heavy. Sometimes they sprout sudden blackbird wings, musical notes. You have seen [heard] them and looked away to grant me some privacy, and I must thank you for that.

The sun has poked its head, made its grand entrance, bells and whistles, bagpipes and gamelan. The children have lined up for the parade, ready to catch candy, their own surprise.

Like you, I shall be human again.

You must tell the others I am coming, that I am on the way not spoken, the way not broken, the way the sun came back. You must speak of the silk that was stuck, how it still slips through the hourglass.

[published in CRISIS CHRONICLES 2013]

 

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LONGING

Many nights I sit on the banks of the shore at high tide to listen to the waves as if they are train tracks echoing a return. I sit and wait for the empty indigo pages to be written upon again. When he will come home to me. Finally, the hypnotic, crashing waves will send an echo, bring his ship back.

I sit and wait and the tide goes out again. A sandbar of smallest pools, microcosms of algae, mermaid purses, barnacles, crab. If I were a painter, I would bring my easel and capture my own longing. If a harpist, my melody would beckon him.

I try to remember, but I have forgotten–the contours of his regal nose and strong jawline, the way his eyebrows arched when he was amused. The drawn look when he didn’t know himself any longer and paced the floor studying the exposed nails. 

He was my eagle, my sun, first star of a short winter afternoon, the last daffodil.

His calloused hands touching my tangled hair in the morning when the sun crawled up through the window and found us. Entwined, lost in a faraway place, neither alone anymore, sharing the island. Until the routine of the day commenced again. The kettle, the fog.

Yes, he was my quarry of sun-kissed stones, my castle of stone. His moat filled with turquoise skies, exquisite emeralds.

I had loved him immediately. The pull of my stomach, my eyes, my awkward arms. When he first gazed upon me, he locked my moss eyes, and his face fell back into his lost boyhood.  He was both far away and more present than he had been in years, he said. But it hurt. 

The sage and rosemary I had been saving for him in carnival glass have withered. I am so sorry. About everything. What transpired before his journey into his sextant of constellations of faraway stars that don’t include me. Rooms of men and talk of war.

When the tide comes in again, I will return to my silk skin. There will be a requisite knock on my door, I imagine. A stranger delivering news of a lost ship, no remains.  A shudder, no. The gods do not hate me any longer. I have given them my greatest gifts.

It has been three hundred and twenty-three days since he left on his ship of mirrors and gold. Three hundred and twenty-three days without music.

 

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